Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 10 : The Fear-Phantom | Summary



Tarzan spies on the villagers after discarding Kulonga's body. He is certain they would think him an enemy should they see him, just as he is suspicious of anyone not in his tribe of apes. He watches closely as a woman dips arrow tips into a bubbling cauldron. Tarzan doesn't know anything about poison, but he understands that this substance is what killed Kala and the boar so quickly. He wants some for himself. The village empties when Kulonga's body is discovered, and then Tarzan drops to the ground to grab the arrows but becomes temporarily distracted by a nearby hut. He examines everything inside the small shelter and then piles the spears, arrows, and knives hanging on the walls in the center of the room. He tops the pile with an inverted kettle and a skull, upon which he places Kulonga's headdress. He smiles at his handiwork and then hears the villagers coming closer. He springs across the opening to the pile of arrows, grabs all he can carry under one arm, kicks over the poison-filled cauldron, and flees to the trees.

The villagers carry Kulonga's body into his hut—the very one Tarzan just left. They emerge confused and excited. Kulonga's father and the village's king, Mbonga, goes inside. He comes out with "a look of mingled wrath and superstitious fear writ upon his hideous countenance." The village is searched and the overturned cauldron is discovered, as is the disappearance of the completed arrows. Everyone is terrified. Tarzan, not understanding superstition, can't figure out why they are so upset. He goes back into the forest to eat more of the leftover boar.


One of Tarzan's favorite pastimes is playing pranks on unsuspecting victims. The word prank (used several times in the text) evokes images of people laughing when the trick is revealed, which gives it a mostly positive connotation, or emotional association. Despite the narrator's light tone, the things Tarzan does are much darker and meaner in nature. Roping Tublat around the neck repeatedly is referred to as a prank, as is the stealing of the villagers' arrows. These aren't so much playful tricks as overt threats. He wants his opponents to know he is stronger and deadlier than they could ever hope to be.

Tarzan automatically assumes the black villagers are his enemies, just as he knows that every animal outside of his tribe is a potential adversary. But when he encounters white people for the first time in Chapter 13, he doesn't automatically think them to be enemies. They look like him, so he assumes they are part of an informal tribe to which he belongs. Just like apes of the same species divide themselves by families and allegiances, so Tarzan aligns himself with people who look like him.

Based on the narrator's description of the villagers, it's no wonder why Tarzan doesn't want to be associated with them. The men are lazy, lolling under trees, while women do the cooking and farming. On the whole the villagers are ugly, from their "great rolling eyes" to the "hideous countenance" of Mbonga's face. Tarzan knows nothing about humanity, but he knows these people, based on their looks and actions, can't be the pinnacle of it. They look and act nothing like Tarzan, who thinks himself superior to everyone else.

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